The Musharraf Administration had coined the idea of establishing grass-root democracy through its 2000 Devolution Plan that was mainly aimed at devolving powers to the grass-root level. Realistically speaking, grass-root level in Pakistan is the hub of problems, most of which are perennial in nature. The people at this level are afflicted with all troubles and tribulations of life. Grass-root level provides most favorable and hyperactive pitch to the political players in domestic milieu. Politics of both apolitical and political leaders find full-scale reflection from this level. Political demagogues and religious pedagogues find a boost to their political career from here. Rhetoric, pronouncements, promises and pledges play a central role to win popular support at grass-root level and thus many political leaders in Pakistan claim their ‘street power’ or ‘vote bank’ by dint of their popularity at this level. The people at this level are with a tailored opinion. In real terms, there is neither public, nor opinion in context of public opinion. Ground realities make the task of devolving powers and resources to grassroots level a challenging one.
A recent study (July 2004) on ‘Devolution in Pakistan’ conducted by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the UK Government Department for International Development (DFID) and the World Bank concludes that there is no clear evidence that decentralization has led to better governance and improved service delivery.
Devolution with its central theme or objective- ‘service delivery’ is all about bringing governance reforms in the civil society. It gains momentum in a civil society only, as it is meant for such society. As far as Balochistan is concerned, it is largely a tribal society. So the growth of a powerful civil society is the first and fundamental challenge for bringing governance and gender reforms through devolution process. That is why the devolution process has been going at a snail’s pace in Balochistan and has not gained momentum yet.
It is the peculiar socio-economic and political milieu of Balochistan( that varies also from district to district) that poses hard challenges for devolution on different fronts- political, social, economic, cultural, and administrative. Absolute poverty, ignorance and lack of social security and other socio-economic problems prevailing in Balochistan actually stem from the long history of injustice and discrimination meted out to this province from successive governments in the past. President General Pervez Musharraf had himself conceded that Balochistan did not get a fair treatment in the past. During his Quetta visit on Oct 6, 2003 while speaking at a gathering comprising members of the Balochistan Assembly, provincial ministers, district Nazims and senior government official at the Governor’s House, President Musharraf said “I apologize for the excesses perpetuated on the people of Balochistan.” The province was put on the top of development agenda under Musharraf administration.
The politics largely centre round the tribal chiefs and this has strengthened tribal hierarchy in Balochistan. The absence of middle class and urbanized leadership also provided rich ground for growth and prevalence of tribalism in the province. And finally, the weak civil community also promoted tribalism and feudalism, as the government did not take such measures, which could encourage the growth of a powerful civil society.
The economic and social backwardness of Baloch society in conjunction with a deeply entrenched sense of tribalism led to an escalation of hostilities in the province. Balochistan has witnessed so far four insurgencies in the years of 1948, 1958, 1962 and 1973. The fiercely independent tribesmen have been resisting all attempts to subjugate them.
Balochistan sets examples of unique amalgamation and mixture in geography, ecology, cultures and life-styles. Land of the province is characterized by set of paradoxes in terms of its physical features- uplands, plains, mountains and coastal areas. Whereas humid coastal areas like Mekran lie here, the arid and hottest areas of Kachhi plain and Kharan desert are also included in Balochistan. Not only the hottest place of Sibi but also the coldest place of Kanmehtarzai is located in this province.
A unique amalgamation of modern life-style in urban areas and traditional and tribal life-style in rural areas gives different colors and shades to the social life in Balochistan. Nomadism in relation to atmospheric conditions is a distinctive feature of life of the people in rural Balochistan. Over 75 percent of the population is rural, with agriculture and livestock the mainstay of the province’s economy. The people are living in higher level of deprivation and in lower level of development when compared with that of other three provinces of Pakistan.
Balochistan is the least developed and most backward province of the country with no infrastructure, industry, viable road network, agriculture extension services, technical training centers and quality education institutions. Devolving power and decision-making to the grassroots level and ensuring planning and development in accordance with local needs, seems an uphill task in Balochistan. It requires huge resources, capacity building initiatives and highly committed personnel, institutions and organizations. What is highly needed is to create awareness about intergovernmental relations, local level development and poverty reduction, and the provincial and local governance to enhance the effectiveness of multi-tiered governments.
The 2000 Devolution Plan and the BLGO established a consistent set of political, administrative and fiscal structures across the province. The local governments across the province face very diverse situations due to the different socio-economic conditions and cultural setups in different districts, and so are the people’s mindsets. For example, the districts in eastern Balochistan like Kohlu present quite different circumstances for devolution movement as compared the districts in southern Balochistan like Gwadar or in northern Balochistan like Zhob. Therefore, the local institutions need to be tailored according to the local circumstances in Balochistan.
A decentralized authority to function effectively needs the favorable conditions and environment, which actually facilitate the devolution. What is therefore primarily important is the environment in which service providers operate under a devolved system of governance, and secondly the evaluation of the political dynamics that are set in motion as a result of devolution. The environment in Balochistan is unsuited to the forces at work for change. What is needed is to strengthen them against those forces, which are at work for resisting the change. There are good reasons for creating autonomous local bodies to manage expenditures so as to increase incentives for efficient and effective use of funds and to monitor public expenditures and the services.
It is the history, culture and tradition that determine the status quo in a tribal and traditional society like Balochistan. Bringing about Gender Reforms related to devolution is an uphill task in the province. The history and tradition cannot be abandoned completely; hence devolution needs to be a sustainable process in Balochistan in a sense that it proceeds in harmony, rather in conflict with long-cherished traditions of the society.
Devolution with all its merits cannot be made effective if its deficiencies of parallel administrative control and interference of local and provincial governments in operations are not removed. Actually we are faced with the problem of theoretical models, which do not fit into the local situations with special reference to the social setups, political economy, development infrastructure and available human and financial resources. It is very much true in the case of Balochistan.